Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 28, 2012

The Gateway Arch

October 28, 1965: The Gateway Arch construction is completed. Also known as the Gateway to the West, the arch remains the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri. The arch is located at the site on the west bank of the Mississippi River where Pierre Laclède asked for a city to be built back on February 14, 1764. The arch reaches up 630 feet into the Midwestern sky making it the tallest man-made monument in the US. It is also the tallest accessible building in Missouri as well as the largest structures designed as a catenary arch – meaning an arch that describes an idealized, natural forming curve when supported only at the ends.

Luther Ely Smith came home to St. Louis back in 1933 and was faced with a crumbling riverfront area. In Indiana, where he had just visited, the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park had impressed him and he wished for something like it in Missouri. He petitioned the mayor who presented the idea on December 15, 1933 to the city leaders. The idea was sanctioned and a nonprofit – Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association (JNEMA—pronounced “Jenny May”) – was established. It was not an immediately popular idea as funds during the Great Depression were scarce. The city believed the project would cost $30 million and petitioned the federal government for ¾ of the funds. The project of riverfront renewal would create much needed jobs.

Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the plan with Executive Order 7253. The site was found and the historic buildings were condemned and demolished after many court cases finally allowed their destruction. Monies were distributed to the land owners and the property was taken over. Designs for the memorial were taken and a winner of the contest with Eero Saarinen becoming the architect of choice. Hannskarl Bandel was the structural engineer. Even with the design in hand, more road blocks were on the horizon. The railroads had to be dealt with as they needed to be relocated. After all these details had been accomplished, the arch needed to be built. Bidding for the construction opened on January 22, 1962. MacDonald Construction Company won the contract for the arch and visitor center.

Ground was broken in 1959 and by 1961 the foundation structure was laid. Construction of the arch itself began on February 12, 1963 as the first steel triangle on the south leg was placed. These triangles narrow was they arch upwards. The arch was assembled, using 142 prefabricated stainless steel sections each measuring 12 feet long. Once these were in place, concrete and tension bars were placed within the double-walled skin of each section. The cost of building the arch was about $13 million (nearly $96 million today). The arch opened to the public on June 10, 1967 and was inaugurated on May 24, 1968.

During a nation-wide competition in 1947-48, architect Eero Saarinen’s inspired design for a 630-foot stainless steel arch was chosen as a perfect monument to the spirit of the western pioneers. – National Park Service

The Arch weighs 17,246 tons. Nine hundred tons of stainless steel was used to build the Arch, more than any other project in history. – St. Louis Arch website

The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch. – Michael Armstrong

Human society is like an arch, kept from falling by the mutual pressure of its parts. – Seneca

Also on this day:

Higher Education – In 1538, the first university in the New World was established.
The Two Sisters – In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.
Volstead Act – In 1919, Prohibition passed over President Wilson’s veto.

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3 Responses

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on October 28, 2012 at 9:29 am

    This project is an example of the selfish and monolithic attitude that is often taken by a government promoting the one event over many others that were perhaps even more important than the event itself. Much other history in the area that preceded Smith- but they were considered worthless by Smith who was in a money-making mode.

    • patriciahysell said, on October 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      Luther Ely Smith died in 1951, before construction even began. He “selfishly” volunteered to fight in both the Spanish-American War and in World War I. He brought the first full time city planner to St. Louis and helped to revive a crumbling waterfront and turn it into a beautiful homage to those who left the civilized East and headed West. I’m not sure of the focus of your dissatisfaction.

  2. Sherry said, on October 29, 2015 at 8:29 am

    I’ve been to the top of the Arch at least three times. Those little trains of cramped egg-like pods which transport sightseers to the observation room at the top are a LOT scarier than the view!

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